Kept in the dark, Winger seeks attorney’s time sheets

NEWS ANALYSIS

“FPL’s determination to acquire Vero Electric is evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of dollars the company has spent pushing referendums and sponsoring council candidates friendly to its cause. The larger objective, of course, is FPL’s desire to expand its customer base by acquiring additional municipal utilities in Florida. Vero Beach is just the first move in a much broader, state-wide chess game. FPL President and CEO Eric Silagy admitted as much in public statements made at an investor conference in March, 2013.” See: FPL president tells investors Gov. Scott is urging other municipal utilities to sell to FPL (Since 2013, FPL’s rates have risen steadily and significantly. Accounting for a franchise fee, the rate differential between Vero Electric and FPL at 1000 kilowatt hours per month is now less than 10%.)

MARK SCHUMANN

Richard Winger
Laura Moss

The law firm of Carlton Fields, engaged by the City three months ago, has yet to submit invoices for work the firm has done and is doing to negotiate a sale of Vero Electric to Florida Power & Light.

Absent invoices and itemized time sheets with which to assess the work of Carlton Fields, Councilman Richard Winger today submitted a public records request seeking those documents.  Even though Carlton Fields may be holding back on submitting invoices, surely the firm is keeping detailed records of time spent and work done. Those records will be needed to eventually prepare invoices. In his records request Winger wrote, “Such sheets, (time and billing sheets), should include time billed, or to be billed, and who acted or was “Present” (in person or on the phone) and on what specific day. “Present” means all personnel, whether from the City, Carlton Fields, FMPA, FPL, etc.”

Given Mayor Laura Moss’s secretiveness about discussions she has had with representatives of FPL and with Carlton Fields, it seems likely Moss may have requested Carlton Fields to delay submitting invoices and billing records.  Her goal would be to keep from public view as long as possible the nature of the discussions and of the work being done to craft a deal acceptable to FPL, to the Florida Municipal Power Agency and to the Orlando Utilities Commission.

It should be noted that nothing in the City Charter or in City Code gives Moss authority to negotiate on behalf of the City Council. The mayor’s is just one of five votes. By Moss’s own recent admission, the mayor’s role is largely ceremonial. As Moss put it, in a council-manager form of municipal government the mayor is much like that of a figurehead monarch — a “queen,” to use Moss’s exact words. Quite simply, Moss has no legal authority to direct the work of outside attorneys hired to act as agents of the City.

Even Moss’s fellow Council members are in the dark about the discussion she has had with FPL and with attorneys at Carlton Fields. Without the involvement of other Council members in the discussions, the City is left with Moss as the only elected official negotiating with FPL. Last November, candidate Moss benefited from a $50,000 contribution FPL gave to a political action committee supporting her. Given that Moss is now beholden to FPL, the fact that her discussions with FPL officials have all been held in secret is, or should be a cause for concern, perhaps even a cause for future legal action.

In addition to recently describing herself as the “queen” of Vero Beach, Moss has also taken to crediting herself with progress now apparently being made on the power sale.  Most likely, any progress in overcoming Vero Beach’s contractual obligations to the FMPA and its bondholders has nothing to do with Moss and everything to do with pressure leaders in the Florida Legislature put on the agency. Their message to the FMPA was probably something like this: “Do whatever you can to make the sale possible, or we will solve the issue ourselves, and you are not going to like our solution.” As a result, FMPA leaders now seem inclined to swallow a deal that will not be good for its remaining members or bondholders.

FPL’s determination to acquire Vero Electric is evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of dollars the company has spent pushing referendums and sponsoring council candidates friendly to its cause. The larger objective, of course, is FPL’s desire to expand its customer base by acquiring additional municipal utilities in Florida. Vero Beach is just the first move in a much broader, state-wide chess game. FPL President and CEO Eric Silagy admitted as much in public statements made at an investor conference in March, 2013. See: FPL president tells investors Gov. Scott is urging other municipal utilities to sell to FPL

Leaders in the Florida Legislature seem determined to help FPL in its effort to begin acquiring municipal utilities. Given the cooperativeness Florida’s legislative leaders show toward FPL, it is worth noting that the editorial board of the Tampa Bay Times recently referred to the Florida Legislature as “a wholly owned subsidiary of FPL.” To be sure, the $50,000 FPL spent last fall aiding Moss’s election bid is nothing compared to the amount of money the utility giant has spent and continues to spend buying influence among members of the Florida Legislature. Sadly, the Legislature is no longer “the peoples house.” Rather, it is the place where laws are passed and arms twisted to benefit the interests of large corporations like FPL.

 

 

 

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